How to check pervasive drug abuse, by pharmacists

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Besides intensifying campaigns on the dangers in the rising spate of drug and substance abuse in the country, leading pharmacists and other professionals have recommended ways to curb the menace, reports Associate Editor ADEKUNLE YUSUF

Determined to free the country from the jaws of rising drug and substance abuse, leading pharmacists and other stakeholders converged on Alade market in Ikeja, Lagos, on Monday.

Although it rained heavily, the weather inclemency was not sufficient to break the resolve of the body of pharmacists to embark on a well-attended road walk that attracted the attention of passersby.

The 1000-man sensitisation and awareness walk, organised by the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy (NAP), kicked off from Allen Avenue/Obafemi Awolowo Way Roundabout to Ikeja Under the Bridge, as part of efforts to educate the public on the dangers of drug misuse.

Besides attracting leading pharmaceutical professionals and regulatory groups, many interested member of the public also joined the walk. After the walk, Dr. Lolu Ojo, chairman of drug and substance abuse committee of NAP, decried the state of substance abuse among youths, adding that addiction crisis in the country has reached an epidemic stage, which poses a threat to public health, if not urgently tackled by the government.

According to him, there is no major city in Nigeria that does not have hideouts, joints, clubs or ram-shackled places where the youth gather to buy or use drugs of various descriptions to feel good. With about 14.3 per cent of Nigerians on drugs, with 10.6 million abusing it, Ojo lamented that  that primary school pupils were victims of drug abuse. This calls for immediate attention from the government and all stakeholders to address the issue before it gets out of proportion, he urged.

“The academy is concerned that the abuse of drugs and other substance has become widespread in recent time particularly among the youthful population in Nigeria. The menace of drug abuse needs to be checked; otherwise, it can impair all the efforts being made to put the nation on a higher political and economic pedestal. We must do something now to stem the tide before it brings calamity on our society because drug and substance use is a self-destructive indulgence that can lead to significant problems and distress,” he said.

Although the country suffers from lack of accurate data on drug abuse prevalence, he said reports from credible global bodies portray a dismal picture for Nigeria’s future. “In a 2018 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC), and endorsed by the ex-minister of health, Prof Isaac Adewole, and the Statistician-General of the Federation, Dr. Yemi Kale, it was revealed that Nigeria has 10.6million users of cannabis (Indian Hemp), 4.6m users of pharmaceutical opioids, 238,000 amphetamine users, one out of every five users of drugs (and opioids) already dependent, one out of every three cannabis users already dependent.

“Overall, 14.4 per cent of the population or 14.4 million people, between 15 and 64 are drug users and one out of every four drug users is a woman. There are unconfirmed reports that the age of use has gone down to seven years, which means that the children in primary schools are already involved. We wish to sound a note of warning that this challenge may even be more than the official estimates at our disposal and we will request the nation to be aware of the iceberg phenomenon that this subject may present before us,” Ojo warned.

Stating that there is a nexus between drug abuse and rising crime in the country, Ojo added that it is towards arresting the dangerous trend that the academy has decided to mobilise all pharmaceutical professionals, trade and regulatory groups to come together and assist government to eliminate the scourge from the society.

“We want to tell people that drugs are poisons when abused. It is only useful in the cure of illnesses. Using drugs in an unpleasant manner will damage your health in the long run,” he stressed. He, however, urged the government to create more jobs and engage the youth in sporting activities, which he said, would take their minds away from engaging in acts of abusing drugs.

“We need the government to engage the youths with job creation, let them have something to do, let the government use sport to get them off the streets and any other things that the government needs to do,” he added.

Also, the former minister of health and chairman, Juli Pharmacy Plc., Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, recommended that stronger regulations should be put in place to control drugs from manufacturing to consumption, adding that the Academy of Pharmacy came out with the programme to ensure that as stakeholders, they were determined to play their roles, as people charged with the protection, production and delivery of drugs.

For Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), pharmacists were determined to work with the government to minimise substance abuse to the level that it would no longer be a subject of concern.

Ohuabunwa, who also expressed concerns on the menace of drug abuse ravaging the country, fingered the biting socio-economic situation in the country as part of the root cause of drug abuse. He explained that because many Nigerians are increasingly finding it difficult to cope with the situation, they are being forced by circumstances to seek escape route from the prevailing harsh economic realities by getting involved in drug abuse. “For us as pharmacists, it is part of our responsibility to ensure that drugs are not abused or misused. Every medicine ought to pass through a pharmacy. Pharmacist should be of good conduct to ensure the efficacy and sustainability of drugs. The effect of substance abuse is enormous and is affecting people’s level of productivity, which in turn is affecting national effort to grow the economy,” he said.

To further embark on the cause analysis of drug abuse and provide information to the government on  remedies, the academy capped its activities with a symposium at the Lagos Sheraton Hotel in Ikeja, with the theme: sustainable approach to the eradication of drug and substance abuse in Nigeria.

Delivering his keynote address at the symposium, Dr. Martin Agwogie, chief executive officer of the Global Initiative on Substance Abuse, said because drug and substance abuse in Nigeria has become a threat to public health, national stability, peace and security, it, therefore, requires the concerted efforts of stakeholders to stem the dangerous tide.

“Over the years, the national drug phenomenon has expanded from the conventional illicit drugs to cannabis, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, to the non-conventional substances like volatile solvents (inhalants), lizard dung/excretes, bio-generic fumes (soak-away/pit toilet gas) to the misuse of synthetic/pharmaceutical opioids and benzodiazepines. This is, in addition to the consumption of a wide range of new psychoactive substances,” he said.

Buttressing his point, Agwogie said Nigeria is rated poorly compared to other countries in drug and substance abuse prevalence, with recent reports saying one in seven persons in Nigeria between 15 and 64 use at least one psychoactive substance as against global average of one in 20. While the global prevalence of drug abuse is 5.6 per cent, he lamented that it is a staggering 14.4 per cent (14.3 million people) in Nigeria. Although the population of Nigeria is just 3 per cent of the world population, it accounts for 6 per cent of the global population of cannabis users.

With 14 per cent of the world population who misuses pharmaceutical opioids residing in the country, Nigeria is one of the countries in the world with the highest population of people who misuse tramadol and codeine cough syrup.

“One in five persons who use drugs in Nigeria is suffering from drug use disorders. This is higher than the global average of one in eleven persons. One in every four drug users in Nigeria is a woman. For cough syrup containing codeine, more women (2.5 per cent) than men (2.3 per cent) are involved. This portends grave danger even to the generation yet unborn. Women involvement in substance abuse has more implications than men, especially considering the critical role of women in child nurturing from the womb.  One in five high risk drug users inject drugs, using needle and syringe. This has its own multiplier health consequences.

“Report recently ranked Nigeria as the fifth in the world with highest suicide rate of an average of six suicides per month. As we may all know, factors that put individuals at the risk of substance use are very much related to factors which make people to commit suicide. More so, persons with substance use disorders place less premium on life, therefore at the risk of suicide. Beyond suicide, there are increased cases of sudden deaths among youths in the country which may not be unrelated to opioid overdose. Going by the recent trend, and if nothing is urgently done, we stand the risk of losing more than 100 youths daily to opioid overdose. Substance abuse may become one of the leading causes of deaths in the country,” he warned.

Is the worsening drug abuse crisis in the country an indictment of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC)? Agwogie, who catalogued the operational and funding challenges bedeviling the two agencies, said this may not be far from the truth. Though he acknowledged that both NDLEA and NAFDAC have qualified and committed manpower, the agencies have not been able to respond effectively to drug control in Nigeria due to neglect by the federal government over the years, among other factors, he said.

“While other countries were moving towards scientific approach in developing sustainable strategies for effective drug control, it was not the same with Nigeria. Today, NDLEA is under the supervision of the federal Ministry of Justice, which aligns it more with the law enforcement mandates of arrest and prosecution of offenders. Yet, NDLEA leads the drug use prevention components under the drug demand reduction of the national drug control master plan. Since 2012, beyond salaries and allowances, most NDLEA activities, including capacity building, have been through support from European Union-funded project being administered by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and support from other international donors,” he said.

The GISA boss also stressed that NAFDAC is suffering from a similar predicament under the ministry of health, adding what is required to address the drug abuse crisis in the country is comprehensive capacity building and overhaul of the two agencies to conform to public health approach to substance use prevention and drug demand reduction.

He tasked the authorities to remove NDLEA and NAFDAC from the supervisory ministries and make them operate directly under the Presidency for the next 10 years to drive effective and sustainable national drug prevention strategies.

In his address, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who regretted that the lives of “our youths who constitute the productive age of the population are being destroyed as a result of indulgence in illicit drugs,” said drug abuse has snowballed into a social problem that requires the efforts of all stakeholders towards proffering lasting solutions.

“The best strategy for effective action against this menace is one in which everyone is involved. It is a social menace that requires all major stakeholders, including the traditional institution, religious bodies, and non-governmental organisations to collaborate with government at all levels to ensure effective implementation of policies and programmes aimed at tackling the issue of drug abuse and trafficking. It is about our future and the future of our nation,” he said.

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